A Single Four-Legged Focus: The Tech Philanthropist Giving Millions for Animals

It isn't every day that a family foundation is renamed in memory of a pet dog. Then again, it isn't every day that a billionaire tech entrepreneur's entire philanthropy is informed by that pet dog.

We're talking about David Duffield, the co-founder of PeopleSoft and then Workday, who promised his beloved miniature schnauzer, Maddie, that if he ever became rich, he would give a large portion of his wealth to animals like her. Indeed, Maddie was by Duffield's side when he mortgaged his house to launch his business. “She was the lighthouse during the stormy period,” says Duffield.

When Maddie passed, the Duffield Family Foundation run by Duffield and has wife Cheryl, set up Maddie's Fund with a $300 million endowment. In 2008, the family foundation and Maddie's Fund merged and the collective outfit does business as Maddie's Fund, revealing how important this issue is to the Duffields.

The fund held nearly $300 million in assets and gave away around $10 million in 2013, almost all of it  to animal advocacy. Before digging more into the details, let's just pause to say how much we love these niche funders—the ones who drill deep into a single cause, as opposed to spreading their money thinly across a range of issues. Having any impact at all through philanthropy is hard, but your odds get better if you have the discipline to focus. The Duffields do, and we can tell you that it's rare thing in the philanthrosphere, where many donors have a problem saying no. 

Maddie's Fund is multifaceted, not only giving out grants but also sponsoring research and education efforts. Here are four must knows:

1. Maddie's Fund Has Pioneered the Concept of No-Kill Animal Shelters

Central to Maddie's Fund is the idea of no-kill animal shelters. The no-kill shelter process is simple: If an animal is not adopted within a certain period of time, the shelter will not condemn the animal to death by euthanasia. Duffield hopes to make no-kill shelters the status quo nationwide for those who care for dogs and cats by 2015.

By most accounts, the foundation has had a major impact. It has already begun to change the way many shelters think about the no-kill concept, and many more shelters are adopting the no-kill policy because of the financial incentives Maddie's Fund provides for doing so.

The emphasis on no-kill is controversial. Duffield's philanthropic vision has created a debate in the animal rights community about whether no-kill is the most humane approach to dealing with all strays. For instance, if it takes an exceptionally long time for animals to be adopted, how humane is it to kennel them for months, or even years?

2. There Are Strings Attached

Some grantees might find the requirements for Maddie's Community Collaborative Projects and other programs to be problematic. To receive a check, shelters are required to work with other animal welfare facilities in their communities to develop no-kill policies. According to Maddie's Fund officials, a number of groups that were once rivals now get along, mainly because of the huge funding dollars at stake. After they receive their checks, grantees must make monthly reports to Maddie's Fund and meet targets regarding increases in spaying and neutering and an overall decrease in animal deaths.

3. The Fund's President Has a Long Advocacy History As Well

It isn't just Duffield and Cheryl who are passionate about dogs and cats. Maddie's Fund president Rich Avanzino, served as president of the San Francisco SPCA from 1976 to 1999. In 1994, he led an effort that made San Francisco the first no-kill city in the nation. He's also been called the father of the no-kill movement. Unsuprisingly, SPCA has been a steady recipient of funds from Duffield. In 2013 alone, Erie County SPCA received more than $1 million.

Let's pause again to make another general point: One great strategy for funders is to find a real heavy-weight who shares your concerns and then empower that person with a lot of money. That Duffields have done that with Avanzino and it's greatly magnified their impact. 

4. The Fund Hosts a Number of Different Intiatives and Special Projects

Between Community Collaborative Projects, Maddie's Pet Adoption Days and Maddie's Treatable Assistance Program, the fund gets at its no-kill goal from multiple different angles.

What's more, Maddie's Fund doesn't just give grants to no-kill shelters. While its giving is almost all animal-related, every year hundreds of dog and cat rescues receive generous donations. In addition the fund has supported veterinary programs and different colleges and universities.

Duffield is worth $7.6 billion. The fund has millions in assets, with all of it seemingly destined for animal welfare, specifically for dogs and cats. Maddie's Fund deserves a closer look. 

Related: Maddie's Fund: Grants For Animals & Wildlife